December 1, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

What’s Natural for Humans?

Should humans do what comes naturally?  What comes naturally?  And what do we mean by natural?
    Nicholas Wade in the New York Times said, “We May Be Born With an Urge to Help.”  He began with the same question: “What is the essence of human nature?”  Then he discussed evidence that infants have an inborn tendency to help.  Who sees this?  biologists.  After dismissing the views of theologians, Thomas Hobbes and parents, he announced, “But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind.  Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.”  We know he is talking ape ancestry because the picture caption says, “The evolutionary roots of altruism are complex,” and the experiments compared young children with chimpanzees.  He also quoted Hilard Kaplan (U of New Mexico) giving a kin-selection opinion of evolution: “Modern humans have lived for most of their existence as hunter gatherers, so much of human nature has presumably been shaped for survival in such conditions.”  A more radical view expressed is the opinion of primatologist Frans de Waal.  He believes “it is in our biological nature, not our political institutions, that we should put our trust.”  Do what comes naturally.  Others quoted say, “Humans clearly evolved the ability to detect inequities, control immediate desires, foresee the virtues of norm following and gain the personal, emotional rewards that come from seeing another punished.”  But did they also evolve the ability to weave stories about what we evolved to do?  In the end, Wade decided to tell us what he thinks we are by nature: “We are selfish by nature, yet also follow rules requiring us to be nice to others.”
    A similar subject was raised by PhysOrg: “Empathy distinguishes modern humans from their primate ancestors.”  This is the opinion of Sarah Hrdy, a staunch evolutionist: “The line leading to the genus Homo split maybe 7 million years ago from other apes, and this helps explain why 99 percent of the DNA overlaps,” she said, repeating a common misconception (see 06/29/2007).  After this emphasis on our similarity with apes, Hrdy pointed to the “deciding factor” that describes human nature compared to chimpanzee nature: empathy.  “Understanding what someone else might be thinking or just being interested in attributing a mental state to someone else is something humans do naturally, right from an early age.”  In other words, “our aptitude for imagining the emotions of other individuals is a powerful indicator of our humanity.”  Where that came from, she speculated, was in the shared care of infants.  The article ended with a pun: “So the nursery was the cradle of our humanity.”  Hrdy did not explain why this did not arise in all the other primate groups if it is such a good thing – nor if it was caused by a genetic mutation and natural selection.
    We may be kind by nature, but self-control has to be forced upon us.  PhysOrg reported the views of psychologists at University of Pennsylvania.  “Psychologists suggest parents should wait to teach toddlers self-control,” the article announced.  They suggest it may be harmful to the developing brain for an infant to hear too soon the parental “No.”  “Toddlers are mastering all sorts of social conventions that simply must be learned.  They’re the rules of the world.  In this sense, trying to hasten the brain’s development may be not only difficult by [sic] unwise,” the article said.  Questions about preventing the hand from touching the hot stove or running out into the street come to mind.
    Painful memories may be evoked by the words to the junior-age version of the birthday song, Happy Birthday to you; you live in a zoo.  You look like a monkey, and you smell like one, too.  Now look at this article in KOMO News.  A zoo in Warsaw has put people on display as cavemen in a cage previously used for monkeys.  This may not be as morally objectionable as the racist act of putting Ota Benga in a zoo (see CMI), since these cavemen are volunteers, but it raises questions about human nature.  Presumably the zookeepers want to make a statement about human kinship with other primates.  If so, how far should the display go to be realistic?  Other primates don’t wear clothes.  They engage in sexual activity and elimination in the open.  Those are natural functions, aren’t they?  The cavemen in the photo look hostile.  They seem unnaturally angry at being imprisoned behind bars.  Maybe it is natural for them to have liberty and justice for all.  Should they pray, play music, and talk to the visitors?  Should they engage in philosophy and science, or would that be unnatural – maybe even “super”-natural?  Which side of the cage is the natural side?

Whenever a person has two natures, there are going to be difficulties in philosophy, theology and science understanding how they come together.  Humans have an animal nature and a spiritual nature.  Theologians wrestle with how to integrate our understanding of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ.
    Evolutionists think they can solve it by erasing the spiritual nature and rendering humans as purely “natural.”  That is no solution at all.  It creates more problems than it solves.  For one thing, “natural” is a very slippery word.  It has multiple meanings depending on the context.  Usually, being materialists, they want to explain everything within the domain of “natural law” (whatever that means; it’s a trickier problem than you think), so as to give a “natural” explanation instead of a supernatural explanation.  So they wind up trying to explain all our behaviors in terms of deterministic influences and genetic predispositions from some mythical “prehistory” (a one-word oxymoron).
    The natural/supernatural distinction cannot be maintained under scrutiny.  Are they saying that scientific reasoning is within the domain of natural law as well?  Then on what basis should we trust such reasoning?  Usually, they commit the Yoda Fallacy of stepping outside their skin and looking down on humans from some exalted plane that has access to truth, justice and honesty.  If those things were emergent properties of molecules, there would be no way to independently validate them.
    In a debate Nov 30, skeptic Michael Shermer was asked about that and shrugged it off.  He appealed to pragmatism: we use reason because it works.  This is a prime example of begging the questionHow does he know it works?  If all his metrics are emergent properties of molecules, he is back to the same conundrum.  His listeners certainly have no basis to trust his appeals to reason.  Within the materialistic box, epistemology itself must emerge.  To what trustworthy, unchanging, reliable standard can his reasoning refer?  His answer merely states his faith in the validity of reason while plagiarizing the presuppositions of Christianity.
    The end result of evolutionary reasoning, inconsistent as it is, is to put man in the zoo.  It may be funny for awhile, but sooner or later, if people act like animals, society will reduce to a Hobbesian war of all against all, till someone cries out, “Thou shalt not….!”  Game over.
    A personal, holy Creator is the only standard by which our actions can be measured with coherence and consistency.  We may not be able to sort out all the conundrums, but we can have hope in the existence of a resolution beyond our limited understanding of it that does not short-circuit itself at the outset.  Since God has a divine nature by definition, it’s perfectly natural to start with Him.

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